World-famous for being home to the Isle of Man TT Races, we explore the uniquely charming and mysterious bays, towns and ports, without the smell of petrol, or a speedy superbike in sight
With 95 miles of beautiful coastline, ancient ruins, historic castles, adventure sports, wonderful wildlife and an endless amount of activities, the Isle of Man is the perfect playground for some unforgettable family fun and an awe-inspiring weekend break.
A melting pot of character and taste, there’s an abundance of attractions, cafes, cosy pubs and trendy restaurants offering something for all ages. Little ones, especially, are bound to love the hidden tales of giants and fairies.
From the miniature buildings that evoke the island’s rich folklore where fairies take flight, to discovering the Fairy Bridge – a quaint old stone structure where trinkets, tokens and letters are left for the ‘Little People’ known locally as ‘mooinjer veggey’ – to bring luck.
Young adults, and the young at heart, might prefer the water and outdoor activities, enjoying an adventure-fuelled break amidst the mountainous peaks, emerald waters and tangled trees and twisty trails, and everyone will enjoy the many unique towns, picturesque villages and quaint harbours just waiting to be explored.
Where better a place to start than the capital, Douglas, with its unique blend of traditional seaside resort and bustling culture quarter?
Here we enjoy exploring the peaceful seafront by horse-drawn tram admiring the views of the two-miles long bay, which includes a mini-castle (The Tower of Refuge) built by the founder of the RNLI, William Hillary, before heading across the island to Peel.
Douglas is located on the east side of the island, just 13 miles in width, so it takes no time at all to drive across to Peel on the opposite, west side of the island.
On our journey, we decide to stop for a breakfast-brunch at Close Leece Farm. Their shop and cafe, housed in a stylishly renovated old barn, is an absolute must – it opened in 2018, and still feels brand new with a warming wood burner, floods of natural light, and modern artwork filling the walls. With the help of their Tamworth pigs, Golden Guernsey goats and Manx bees they serve some of the best breakfasts on the island!
Along with some friendly local folk we are lucky enough to have the cafe almost entirely to ourselves, and we sit outside in their spacious garden admiring the beautiful countryside, surrounded by their Manx Loaghtan sheep, goats and free-range chickens.
Just a five-minute drive around the corner and we arrive at Adventurous Experiences, where we meet Keirron, the owner and head coach of our coasteering adventure. Wetsuits on, and safety briefing over, we head down the road in convoy to the stunning Peel Beach, a white sandy bay, overlooked by the magnificent Peel Castle, on the majestic coastline.
The rugged cliffs of St Patrick’s Isle, supporting the castle above, are steep and craggy, and as they plunge into the sea they create the perfect coasteering landscape.
We start off gently, scrambling, swimming and stepping, sometimes jumping, into the crashing sea from reasonably low heights as we make our way around the rocks further behind the imposing castle.
The waters are choppy and we enjoy the rushing waters between the rocks and the thrill of navigating our way through the push and pull of the swells.
Keirron advises that if we get tired from swimming to simply flip on our backs and let our buoyancy aids do the hard work for us, and he’s right – you simply stay afloat and let the waves take you.
We reach the next outcrop and take a short breather in a cave where we examine the sedimentary rock formations of blocks and geometric shapes the sea must have formed over the years. There are also some interesting markings inscribed into the rock by sailors from a time gone by.
Keirron’s knowledge of the island is profound. He was born on the Isle of Man, trained in North Wales, and then set up his business 15 years ago. Keirron teaches us some more about the history of the island, before stepping it up, and taking us up to our biggest jump yet, around 20ft high!
Keirron is brilliant, very professional and he made us all feel completely at ease, and most importantly when coasteering, safe! My youngest jumped in just as I had reached the top, my heart was in my mouth, but not wanting to let my family down or lose face, I took the leap of faith – and we celebrated together in the water.
Back in Peel, once dry and warm, we decide to spend the rest of the afternoon exploring this thriving Manx fishing port. Aptly named ‘Sunset City’, Peel is famous for its stunning sunsets, sandy beach and of course the magnificent castle, constructed by the Vikings in the 11th Century.
We stop to see a working kipper curer who gives us a fantastic insight into the production of the famous Manx Kipper before visiting Davisons Ice Cream Parlour, for a taste of the most beautiful ice cream on the island.
We enjoyed wandering along the beach and up the promenade, investigating the quaint, winding streets lined with numerous shops and cafes – passing the Island’s only cathedral, and spotting our first Manx Cat with its very short tail – ginger and adorable!
Peel is also a great town for learning more about Peel’s, and the Island’s, history and marine heritage by visiting the interactive House of Manannan museum, the Leece Museum and the unique Manx Transport Heritage Museum.
One of the locals tipped us off about The Boatyard Restaurant, which is located on Peel’s historic quayside and enjoys stunning views of the bustling marina and ancient Peel Castle.
Here we enjoy fresh local fish, (I order Monkfish and Prawn Moilee – delicious) before driving back to our holiday home, admiring the striking sunset and believing the legends here to be true.
Our morning starts with a 5k run at Nobles Park, Douglas. The only Parkrun on the Isle of Man, attracting around 150 locals and parkrun tourists every Saturday with the run starting at 9am. Parkrun is something we do regularly as a family at home, and it’s always an adventure to take part when we’re away on holiday too.
Here we discover the TT Grandstand and enjoy looking at the startline, pit lanes, refuellers, and scoreboard, and we meet Karen Penny, an impressive lady who is walking the entire coast of Britain and Ireland – 19,000 miles – for Alzheimer’s Research UK (justgiving.com/fundraising/thepennyrollson).
We drive to The Sound, the Island’s very southern tip, approximately a 30-minute drive. It’s breathtaking, one of the most scenic places in the British Isles, with views over to the Calf of Man – and a great place for spotting seals. With floor to ceiling windows, The Sound Cafe is an excellent place to then treat yourself to local Manx dishes, coffee and some cake while still enjoying those fabulous coastal views.
If you prefer walking to running, allow yourself the day to explore footpaths which lead from The Sound to Port Erin or Spanish Head, Cregneash and the Chasms in Port St Mary. Or you could hire bikes from The Bike Hut in Port Erin, and make like Peter Kennaugh and Mark Cavendish for an afternoon of cycling! Alternatively, book a boat trip to or around the Calf of Man.
Given its remote location, the island is, unsurprisingly, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and wildlife haven, above and beneath the waves, with regular visits from whales, dolphins, porpoises and seals as well as chough, fulmar, redshank and a breeding colony of Manx shearwater. As a Nature Reserve and Bird Observatory, the Calf of Man is a 600-acre islet located on one of western Britain’s major migration routes, making it an ideal place for birdlife, fauna and flora. Around 33 species of seabirds breed on the islet annually, include Manx Shearwater, Kittiwake, Razorbill and Shag.
This area is also a hotspot for seals sunbathing on the rocky Kitterland, an even smaller rocky islet – often frequented by dolphins and basking sharks.
Next, we head to the Manx Electric Railway terminus back in Douglas. The car park is next to the Terminus Tavern Pub, a good option for lunch – serving generous, homemade and freshly prepared meals.
From here we take an unforgettable journey, aboard the electric tram, along the east coast. Travelling on this unique heritage railway, which dates back over 100 years, is an adventure in itself. The 17-mile route takes us along some of the most scenic stretches of railway in the British Isles.
On one side are views of the beautiful Manx countryside, glens and charming villages and to the other, far-reaching views out to sea.
We stop at Laxey, a picturesque village on the east coast, set in a deep valley. Here you can discover insight into the Island’s mining heritage and view the world’s largest working water wheel, the Laxey Wheel, or Lady Isabella as she is also known, which used to pump water out of the mines.
We enjoy a light lunch at Ballacregga Corn Mill Tearooms, a newly refurbished mill offering a mix of history, contemporary art and delicious food before taking a ride on the Snaefell Mountain Railway.
This unique Victorian enterprise, which is around five miles long, has been in operation since 1895 and is the only electric mountain railway in the British Isles! The tram winds its way to the summit of the Island’s only mountain, Snaefell, at a height of 2,036 feet above sea level. On a clear day, it is said seven kingdoms can be seen from the top of Snaefell: Isle of Man, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Heaven and the Sea.
Roam, relax and be refreshed at the summit cafe, before taking the next convenient tram back to Laxey, where you alight and wait for the Manx Electric Railway service to take you back to Douglas.
In Douglas there is a huge selection of restaurants to choose from. We decide on Ocean on North Quay where they had a vegan menu, ideal for my daughter, who was delighted to have the option of a cauliflower coconut curry and sticky toffee pudding with ice cream.
It was so refreshing escaping the everyday and waking up each morning in such sublime surroundings, with a day packed full of excitement and adventure. We felt we still might have only scraped the surface of this extraordinary island – next time we will hopefully stay for a week!
In addition to ferry services from Heysham, Liverpool, Belfast and Dublin, there are over 200 flights from UK and Ireland airports to the Isle of Man each week. Once on the island, it is best to hire a car. Try ASP (aspcarhire.com) and request a satnav for navigating the island.